Air Force Research Laboratory seeks to 'maximize our hiring practices,' commander says

By THOMAS GNAU | Dayton Daily News | Published: February 4, 2021

Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle, commander of Air Force Research Laboratory, doesn't see big changes in lab employment at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, even with the possibility of flatter defense budgeting in years to come.

"We don't see changes in terms of more or less, but just kind of shifting the emphasis," Pringle said in a Zoom meeting Thursday hosted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. "We are increasing our focus on space science and technology, and that's an important part of being one AFRL for two services."

"What we primarily are trying to do in the employment area is make the most of the authority that we have, maximize our hiring practices, be as efficient and as agile and as quick as possible," she added.

AFRL is headquartered at Wright-Patterson, and the lab daily serves both the Air Force and the new Space Force, as leaders continually emphasize. With some 6,000 employees nationally, the organization oversees a $2.5 billion science and technology program as well as more than $2.3 billion in externally funded research and development.

About 700 personnel from AFRL are joining Space Force, Pringle said.

"We want all our personnel to be bilingual, as I mentioned, in Air Force- and (Space Force) Guardian-speak," the commander said.

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, who spoke with Pringle during the event, observed that AFRL has to "compete with industry" to land talent.

Pringle said the Air Force often relies on "executive headhunters" to find the best talent in artificial intelligence, quantum physics, hypersonics and other areas. AFRL also finds itself conducting "stay interviews" with current employees.

"That's an industry best practice," Pringle said. "What will keep you here?"

The lab can also repay up to $125,000 in employee student loans.

Said Deptula: "I had not heard that before. That certainly has to be motivating."

And there's also AFRL's work itself.

"You guys are doing things that you don't find in industry and you can't find anywhere, and that has to be a motivator," Deptula said.

Pringle acknowledged that all of the federal government faces new budgeting pressures.

"We had a big year last year with COVID; we had a lot of bills, and I would expect to be part of the solution," the one-star general said. "So I don't know what that would mean or what that would entail."

But she cautioned: "You don't want to lose the seed-corn of ideas. There has to be some level of investment continuing that pipeline of new ideas and innovation going forward."

Areas of focus include an array of ever-evolving war-fighting technologies, including the Skyborg autonomous drone.

Deptula touched on a successful demonstration of those abilities in a December test, in which an autonomous XQ-58A Valkyrie drone communicated with an F-22 and an F-35 over the Army Yuma Proving Ground testing range in Arizona.

"I just really wanted to ask those two pilots what they were thinking when they were flying in formation with that attritable autonomous aircraft," Pringle said.

The test was seen as a step toward a "military Internet of Things," as a drone linked to fifth-generation jets.

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